HEART disease is one of our biggest killers and for years it had been stalking New Zealand woman Jess Shannon — that was until she decided to fight back and drop 62kg of body weight in 14 months.

The 33-year-old’s remarkable weight loss came about after she was rushed to hospital last year complaining of chest pain and waking at night gasping for air.

Doctors soon discovered her heart was giving up.

Having been overweight most of her life, her heart had become enlarged and could no longer pump blood properly. Doctors said it was running at just 20 per cent efficiency.

The mum-of-three found herself on death’s door and reliving a childhood horror — years earlier, when she was just 10, she had watcher her own mother die from a heart attack.

It had struck the same night her mum left hospital after suffering two earlier heart attacks.

Twenty years later, the devastating moment replayed itself in Ms Shannon’s mind as the doctors told her she must change her life or die.

“I decided I need to be around for my kids, I don’t want to repeat family history,” she said.

Her tale comes as World Heart Day is set to be held across 120 countries on Saturday in a bid to raise awareness at the 17.5 million deaths caused by cardiovascular disease globally.

In Australia, heart disease claims one person every 12 minutes and is one of our biggest health problems.

Ms Shannon hopes World Heart Day will encourage people to also take action before it is too late.

She has now reached a stable weight of about 70kg and her friends constantly ask how she did it and if she took a weight loss pill.

“There are no magic pills,” she said.

Instead the mum used the thought of her family as motivation to transform her diet and start exercising.

Where she had often previously skipped breakfast and then had a “massive dinner” followed by sugary treats, she instead began to simply eat three healthy meals.

“In the morning, for breakfast, I have two Vogel’s toasts with tomato or eggs or hummus, or sometimes even peanut butter,” she said.

“It just depends what I feel like — muesli, yoghurt. At lunchtime I have salad. For dinner I have a normal meat and veg dinner — just small portions.”

Coming out of hospital she was told she should exercise at least 10 minutes each day.

“That ain’t going to do anything,” she thought and aimed higher.

She began walking up Mt Maunganui in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty. It took an hour and 20 minutes the first time.

Later, she cut the time down to just 18 minutes.

Recently, Ms Shannon teamed up with a friend to complete a relay leg of a half marathon.

The two friends were the fastest team home, completing it in 2 hours and 40 minutes.

For a woman who just over a year earlier would get puffed taking a few steps, “it was an amazing moment”.

However, she acknowledges the journey isn’t over and that it can be “mentally draining” to stay on track.

She has battled emotional eating her whole life and believes the trauma of her mum’s tragic death and a stressful childhood played a part in her gaining weight.

Yet, she said, she is never going back to an unhealthy weight.

“It’s been a bloody hard road,” she said.

“But I’m proud because I know I will be there for my children and husband and can help set them up to have a healthy life of their own.”

This article originally appeared on New Zealand Herald and is reproduced with permission.